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Codes of research ethics: what are they useful for; and what are their limitations?


This paper considers the usefulness, and limitations, of codes of research ethics for the planning researcher. Formal ethical approval of planning research, and explicit agreement to adhere to specified codes of ethics, is required for research by planning academics in more and more countries. What might those promoting these processes be hoping to achieve, and how do they think the codes will help? There has been discussion of codes of professional ethics in planning for some decades (Hendler,1990; Taylor,1992), and the paper considers whether these contain arguments which could also justify codes of research ethics. The fact that planning research is undertaken both outside and inside universities, and typically aims to inform planning, or at least inform debates on planning (ie it is often action-oriented) makes professional codes more pertinent a starting point than they might be in, say, history or philosophy. The paper argues that the significance of, and hopes pinned upon, codes of ethics, whether professional or related to research, will depend upon how one understands moral behaviour, moral deliberation, and – crucially – the relationship of scholarly inquiry to moral frameworks. Analyzing the specific issue of codes of research ethics, the paper will consider the political implications of planning research in the face of several actors in the field, including the researcher him/herself (with his/her political ideas and values) on one side, and on the other side institutions which - in our research.